Summer, 2001
24-Hour Short Story Contest
1st Place Winner!

She walked quickly through the dark streets of downtown and noticed that the only lights illuminating the entire block were from the old barber shop which had been vacant for years. Even the barber pole was slowly spinning in the dark. When she got to the window and looked inside, she was shocked to see a myriad of couples...waltzing.


by Janice Repka, York Springs, PA, USA

Eleven-year-old Jacob Lowenstein felt a shiver as he read the notice posted on the wall of the abandoned tenement. In cold block lettering, it ordered: "OLD JEWS, 60+, REPORT TO TRAIN STATION BY 9 P.M.TONIGHT." When he passed another notice just like it, he walked faster. When he passed a third, he forgot completely about his weak, malnourished body and broke into a frantic run.

Racing home from his factory job in the war-torn polish ghetto where he lived with his mother and grandparents, the notices seemed to be posted everywhere. When he got to his own apartment building, he found one on the lobby door. He wanted to tear it down. He wanted to rip it into tiny pieces, but he was afraid.

"When had the notices gone up?" He wondered.

There had been no notices when he had left for his job at the garment factory that morning. The time now was 7:20 p.m. Had his grandparents seen the notices? Were they hiding under the blankets in their bedroom? Jacob rushed up the steps to his third floor apartment and flung open the door. A thick silence hung in the air.

"Nana? Pap Pap?" He called, "Are you here?"

No answer. He surveyed their room. Everything was in its place, even the suitcases. But his grandparents were not home. Jacob ached for his mother to walk through the front door, but he knew she wouldn't be home from her job until after ten. He crawled under his bed to wait for her. While he waited, Jacob began to imagine things.

He imagined he saw a long train packed with elderly Jews. He could seen his grandmother's face through a crude window cut into the boxcar. He could see her lips moving.

"Jacob," She cried, "Why won't you help us?"

The floor beneath Jacob's face was wet with his sweat and tears. He knew that if his grandparents obeyed the order and got on that train, they would be taken to a concentration camp. If they disobeyed, and were caught out on the streets after 9 p.m., they would be shot immediately. In his mind's eye, Jacob could see his grandparents sitting inside a building while the notices were being hung around town. Then, in the twilight, he could see a young Nazi patrolling for old Jews who had failed to heed the warning. He could see his grandparents running while the Nazi got them within his sights.

"Jacob," His grandfather screamed, "Why won't you help us?"

Jacob ran the back of his dirty arm against his eyes and pulled himself from under the bed. Maybe there was still time to do something. First he would have to find them. Then he would have to help them find a place to hide.

Jacob forced himself back out into the bitter evening air. He began walking a careful pattern up one street and down the next. The wind bit at his cheeks. Even in the darkness, he could see the clean, white notices. Jacob thought about the other orders that had been posted around the area since his family had been relocated to the ghetto.

The first one had called for "Ill and crippled Jews." Jacob's father, who had a bad infection in his foot, had gotten up early that day hoping to see a doctor before his work day began. That was two years ago. No one had ever seen him, or any of the other "ill and crippled Jews," again.

Another time, there was a call for "young and useless Jewish children." His grandfather explained to him that, according to the Nazis, a young and useless child, was a minor without gainful employment. That's how Jacob got his job. They needed small boys who could squeeze through the backs of the big machines at the factory to clean them out when they jammed. Jacob was afraid of the big machines. He was even more afraid of the Nazis, and the trains.

Jacob searched through the darkness for a street sign. For a moment, he thought he might have gotten turned around. He began to cry, but then pressed himself onward toward the next block. He walked quickly through the dark streets of downtown and noticed that the only lights illuminating the entire block were from the old barber shop which had been vacant for years. Even the barber pole was slowly spinning in the dark. When he got to the window and looked inside, he was shocked to see a myriad of couples...waltzing. Among the couples, were his grandparents.

He watch the couples as they twirled around. His grandparents stared at each other like there was no one else there. Like they weren't in the ghetto. Like there weren't any Nazis. Like there had never been a war. As Jacob watched them, he too fell into a daze. He was transported to a world where he was playing marbles in a swaying tree house.

Suddenly the music and dancing stopped and the couples began coming out. He watched them as they walked in the direction of the train station. When his grandfather came out, Jacob called to him.

"Pap Pap."

His grandparents turned and saw him.

"I have to tell you..."

"We know, Jacob," said his grandfather. He held up one of the notices.

"Goodbye, my Jacob," said his grandmother as she hugged him deeply.

"Be brave," said his grandfather as he kissed Jacob's still wet cheeks. Then they turned and, arm-in-arm, followed the rest of the group toward the train station.

On the long, dark walk back to his apartment, Jacob savored a vision of his grandparents waltzing across a beautiful ballroom floor. He thought about what his grandfather had said to him and he promised himself that, as long as he could picture them dancing, he would never be afraid again.

What Janice won:
$200 Cash Prize
Publication of winning story on the WritersWeekly.com website
1 - Freelance Income Kit Includes:
-- 1-year subscription to the Write Markets Report
-- How to Write, Publish and $ell Ebooks
-- How to Publish a Profitable Emag
-- How to Be a Syndicated Newspaper Columnist Special (includes the book; database of 6000+ newspapers; and database of 100+ syndicates)

Contest guidelines are HERE.


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